Friday 23 August 2019

John Aldridge: 'There's an obvious problem that VAR could cause at the start of the season and it has me worried'

Damir Skovina awards a penalty to Manchester United against PSG in last season's Champions League
Damir Skovina awards a penalty to Manchester United against PSG in last season's Champions League

John Aldridge

The more I see of the VAR system that should be enhancing the game, the more it worries me.

I was very keen to have video replays introduced to help match officials, who continued to make mistakes at key moments.

But the version of VAR that has been used in recent weeks has left me wondering whether it is going to turn the opening weeks of the new Premier League season into a farce.

We witnessed chaos in some FA Cup matches last season, when referees tried to use replays to clear up contentious decisions. Clearly the big issue here is the desperation to use VAR on every minor decision and especially when it comes to handballs in the penalty box.

Liverpool benefited from a dubious penalty in the opening seconds of the Champions League final when Moussa Sissoko was adjudged to have handled the ball.

While it might have been the right decision under the rules of the game, I would not have been happy if that decision had gone against my team in such a massive game.

We have seen similar incidents at the Women’s World Cup this summer, where players have been hit on the arm from close range and penalties have been given.

If that is the way the game is going, it could lead to some major problems when VAR is introduced into the Premier League next season. Top players are quick enough – and good enough – to get themselves into a position where they can flick balls on to defenders’ arms in a bid to try and win penalties.

And you can be sure that they will be awarded them too. And if referees give spot kicks every time a ball flicks off an arm in the box, players will find this an addictive tactic.

Defenders will need to have their hands behind their backs defending from now on and if they do that, they will be off balance and that will be to the benefit of the attacking players once again.

So something has to be done before the game we all love becomes little more than an exhibition of how to win penalties using methods that some teams might start practising on training grounds.

I can’t imagine top managers like Jurgen Klopp, Pep Guardiola or Mauricio Pochettino telling their players to try and win penalties in this way. But you could certainly imagine seeing more devious touchline manipulators urging their players to use that tactic if they were desperate to win matches by fair or foul means.

I just feel that this whole VAR issue is a complete disaster in the making and it doesn’t need to be like this, because if it is used correctly, it could be great for the game.

While we can’t expect referees to always get everything right, as the pace of the game is frightening these days, we nonetheless have a right to expect better from the game’s top officials.

It has become clear that they badly need help and VAR could be the solution, but I think it should only be used to eradicate big errors rather than trying to find problems that are not there.

A striker who is half a toenail offside would have been given the advantage, and still should. And a goal would have stood in years gone by, but now we are seeing goals ruled out a minute after they have been scored and that can’t be right.

Raheem Sterling thought he had scored an injury-time winning in last season’s Champions League quarter-final against Tottenham, but VAR halted the celebrations because Sergio Aguero was a few centimetres offside in the build-up.

I’m not sure that was a ‘clear and obvious’ error, to use referees' language.

Hopefully, Premier League officials are looking at the chaos VAR is causing and will make sure they iron out the problems before the new season gets under way in early August, but I have my doubts they will do that.

Instead, we may be set to see a crazy opening to the new Premier League season dominated by teams trying to win penalties rather than working out how to beat their opponents via conventional means. If that happens, then the game that we know and love will be gone.

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